I believe that kneeling to receive Holy Communion is perhaps the most effective way to promote belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Preaching and teaching about the Eucharist is important, but falling on our knees to receive the Eucharist has a unique power in helping us take to heart what we believe.
A study done in 2019 revealed that not even one-third of Catholics believe the Eucharist is truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. 69% of self-identified Catholics believe the Eucharist is only a symbol of Jesus. This is stunning and sobering.
The Church believes that at the Consecration the bread and wine are transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. This is called Transubstantiation. Why, therefore, do 69% of Catholics not believe this? I think one of the reasons is because receiving Holy Communion doesn’t always feel like a sacred act, rather, it feels fairly ordinary. It is very common for us to stand in line for things, and therefore receiving Holy Communion can become just another thing we stand in line for.
This is why I believe kneeling to receive Holy Communion may be the most effective way to help Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Because it makes us completely break out of our ordinary experiences and realize that what we are doing in that moment is completely different than the rest of our daily lives. To be on our knees, waiting for someone to come to us, is not a normal experience, and it psychologically tells us that this action is very different and special.
I think it is especially powerful for a child to see mom and dad on their knees waiting for Jesus to come to them.
If the Eucharist is just a symbol of Jesus, then it makes no sense to kneel before Him. But if it is the Real Presence of Jesus, then kneeling is quite appropriate. To quote Pope Benedict XVI: “The practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species”.’
Kneeling to receive Communion not only can aid in our reverence shown to Jesus, but it also offers us a moment to pause, even if only for a few seconds, and prepare our hearts before the priest makes his way down the row to us to give us the Eucharist. Families and parishioners kneel, shoulder to shoulder, to receive the Lord together. And there is no rush to depart and immediately move out of the way for the next in line.
There was a trend in the 1960’s-1990’s for Catholics to stop kneeling at Mass. Most churches removed the communion rail, and some even removed the kneelers in the pews. This trend came from a mistaken theology that lost the sense of Christ’s real presence in the Holy Eucharist. If the bread and wine at Mass are merely symbols of Jesus, then there is no need to kneel before them, indeed, it would be idolatry to worship bread and wine. However, if the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Jesus, then it is most fitting to fall on our knees before Our Lord.
This is also the reason we genuflect whenever we enter or exit the church, because this is a sign of our adoration to Almighty God whom we acknowledge as truly present in the tabernacle.
Kneeling is highly symbolic and meaningful and is widely recognized in every culture and religion as having some significance. We recognize that when one kneels before another person or an object that he is expressing an act of humility or devotion. For example:
Adoration (such as Catholics before the Eucharist, or other religions kneeling before their god)
Love (such as a man proposing to a woman)
Submission (such as a knight before a king)
Scripture has numerous stories of kneeling:
“Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” – Psalm 95:6
“A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’” – Matthew 8:2
“The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.” – Matthew 15:25
“When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him.” – Matthew 17:14
“At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend.” – Philippians 2:10
Kneeling is an act of adoration, love, and submission. This is why kneeling is an essential aspect of Catholic worship. Pope Benedict XVI, who has written very articulately on the symbolism of Catholic liturgy, explains the importance of kneeling:
“Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole of man [body and soul]. That is why bending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon.”
“It may be that kneeling is alien to modern culture—insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the One before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at its core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ himself.” – The Spirit of the Liturgy, pgs 190-191, 194
Of course, for those who are elderly, or have bad knees, or knee replacements, the Church fully understands if you are unable to kneel, and the Lord knows your heart’s desire to worship Him. But for those who are able to kneel, it is an important symbol of worship during Mass.
Additionally, for hundreds of years Catholics not only knelt during the consecration, but also knelt to receive Holy Communion. Kneeling to receive Communion is a physical expression of the adoration and love our hearts have for Jesus. And many people recently have been asking me about the option to kneel to receive Communion.
The Church is clear that it is permissible to receive Holy Communion either standing or kneeling. However, I encourage kneeling because this physical action not only is an expression of our faith, but it also in turn helps our faith to grow, because it reminds us that we are on our knees because we truly believe that this little piece of bread is the Body of the Lord Jesus.
Here are a couple of excellent articles that help explain kneeling to receive Communion: